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Imagine it’s my first day on the job as a cupcake artist. The boss passes out aprons and the other two new girls got pink ones, but mine is teal. I hate teal, but love pink. So I throw a fit. How long do you think I will keep that job?
If the boss is smart, I’ll be fired on the spot. Afterall, if I am willing to fall apart over the color of my apron, it’s unlikey that I will get along with the other employees or respect his authority. It’s also unlikely that I will be of any value to his company.
Why does this matter?
Our lives are filled with interactions that don’t offer the freedom of choice. We work FOR another, work WITH another and even LIVE with another.
Taking the freedom of choice in an issue (whether apron color or something else) because it is an assumption of entitlement. It says: I deserve this. Consequently, it also says: you don’t. In the scenario above, if I had demanded the pink apron then someone else would have been forced to surrender theirs.
Therein lies the problem.
Entitlement leads to the assumption that MY RIGHTS superseed the rights of others.
Entitlement causes people to harm others, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. Honestly, this is a dangerous practice that our society has adopted so very liberally. Dangerous because we will not always get what we want and one day that could lead to extreme discontentment…a one way street to anger, depression, and bitterness. Ask me how I know. 🙂
It’s funny because immediately we want to claim that we would never tolerate this kind of behavior from a person, but as parents we are guilty of doing it nearly everyday.
Can you picture it?
Sweetie, what color cup to you want?
What do you want for dinner?
Do you want to eat your broccoli?
Do you want to go to bed?
What do you want to wear?
Do you want to leave the play area now?
Everyday is filled with endless choices for our children. The results? A serious cause of entitlement.
Giving children a choice isn’t always bad. Don’t hear me say that. I’m not advocating that we make every decision for the rest of their lives. What I’m advocating is that we train our children to avoid entitlement thinking.
How do we avoid entitlement thinking?
First let me say that no matter how hard we work as parents, we are still dealing with the flesh here. Even the perfect method will not always work so perfectly, but that is not a reason to give up. Be encouraged…try hard, but always rely on God’s scandalous mercy and grace to fill in what we lack as parents.
Here is the philosophy that I have worked toward over the years (adapted from many great parenting books which I will list below):
Freedom of choice is earned
A child is granted the freedom of choice only after they have demonstrated their willingness to submit to my choice. This means that as toddlers, my children do not get choices. Any choices. Color of cup, apple or banana, shirt to wear, etc. Yes, I know that people are out their freaking out right now about how I am so very mean. I’m not. I’m training them for a life filled with submission. Boss, spouse, coworkers. They must learn to get along with others.
So until they are willing to happily take what I offer, they don’t have a choice. In my home this generally lasts until around age 3.
Generally at age 3, I start giving one choice at a time. I might say, “sweetie, would you like an apple or a banana for lunch?” Note that I didn’t say, “sweetie, what would you like for lunch?” I want to encourage the choice, but not create a disaster for myself. You and I both know that a 3 year old will rarely pick an apple over a bag of oreos for lunch. Offering limited options avoids even opening that can of worms!
Freedom of choice is something that must be TAUGHT.
Responsible choices are not innate. (Actually, the Bible says that we are innate to make ridiculous choices. Just read Genesis chapter 3.) As parents, God has given us the amazing calling of teaching our children (Deut. 6).
One by one, I give them choices as they are mature enough to handle them. However, there are many choices that they still are not ready for. For example, at 3 years old, my child is not prepared to determine if he should wear shorts or a snow suit. I know that seems silly, but you wouldn’t believe how many first graders I taught who still argued about whether or not they should wear a coat in 30 below weather. This friends is not an issue of immaturity, it’s a direct result of years of too many choices that they weren’t qualified to make.
Freedom of choice can be taken away.
So what happens when choices get out of control? My rule is simple. If I give you no choice on something, I do expect that you politely and graciously submit to that lack of choice. Should you not, other choices will be taken away until you are able to handle the freedom of having your choices back. An example…bedtime is not negotiable. I don’t barter or offer options when it comes to going to bed. Sometimes, I CHOOSE to extend bedtime, but rarely do I allow the children to plead for more awake time.
I’m hoping that by now you have figured out that in adulthood we have lots of times when we do not have a choice. Again…my job as a parent is to prepare them for life. An entitled adult is a very unhappy person, because most things do not go our way…at least not for long.
Many freedoms still have boundaries.
Giving a freedom to a child doesn’t give them free run. For example, there are certain things that my 9 year old is not allowed to watch on Netflix. However, she has the freedom to choose within my boundaries. I can trust her to be responsible with this choice, as she has proven herself.
I know that many parents are out there right now thinking of how mean it would be to simply give their child an orange cup without offering a choice of colors. First, seriously? I mean really there could be a whole lot of worse things in their lives. But even if you still think that…consider this. One day your child is either going to school, a social group, church, or a sports team. What do you think happens when they get there?
I’ve been in the classroom. There is little choice there. You don’t talk when the teacher is talking. Period. You don’t get out of your seat without permission. Period. No one asks you what color reading group you want to be in. Even the teacher often picks your recess game. Trust me…you can’t choose to do what you wish. You must submit to authority. And you should. I mean think about how awful this world would be if we spent every moment of every day consumed with getting everything that we want?
I know you know someone like that. Do you really want to raise another one? (Of course not!)
Freedom of choice is a spiritual issue
Scripture commands us to love one another and put yourself last. That means our choices and preferences aren’t as important as we think they are.
We are called to love others above ourselves. That means letting my sister have the last banana. Or letting a friend have the orange cup at lunch. Joyfully. And why not? Life is miserable when you are consumed with yourself.
Take heart, my friend. We can do this parenting thing!
All parenting experts (christian and non) agree on one thing. Giving kids boundaries is the only healthy way to establish loving, thriving adults. Children DO want you to tell them what to do. They DO want you to be the parent.
So, pray a lot. Pray some more. Then go out there and be the parent they need. Teach them and mold them to think of others first, avoiding the selfish road to entitlement.
I am on your team…praying for you in this journey!
My favorite parenting books…